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Full text of "The Gay Genius"

EXPERIMENT IN STATE CAPITALISM            87

fiscated properties and forgiveness o all debts of the poor, Su Tungpo
wrote:

"Since the order to return the confiscated properties, the people are
"overjoyed. They have said to me that since they were driven out from
their homes and business, parents have been separated from their
children and wives from their husbands, living the life of homeless,
wandering refugees. Since the establishment of the trade bureaus and
government stores, all means of livelihood of the people have been
taken over by the government. The small traders, deprived of their
normal trade, were forced to join up with the government trade bureaus
and compelled to mortgage their goods and properties to obtain
immediate cash at a high interest. When the loans matured and they
were not able to repay, they were fined double interest. Gradually
their debts piled higher and higher, and more and more people were
put in jail together with their families."

For the first few years, however, Wang Anshih was able to keep the
Emperor in the dark about the terrible conditions by adroit propaganda,
insisting he had the "people's support" for his "agrarian programme"
and painting a totalitarian regime as a "democracy"a confusion of
terms strangely reminiscent of modern days. Then as now, whether a
people love a regime or not can be judged only when a despotic regime
is no longer in power. Sincere in his desire to learn the truth, the
Emperor sent out his own reporters. But knov^ing that the reforms
'were popular with the Emperor himself, the eunuchs and dishonest
reporters always reported to the Emperor that the people loved the
reforms, and that upon the arrival of the tax commissioners, the "people
cried with joy", which was literally true, as far as a staged reception
was concerned. The terrible conditions of the people after a few years
of Wang Anshih's regime were at last revealed to the Emperor in the
form of pictures submitted by a curious, obscure palace gatekeeper, a
very daring man.

Standing at the gate, this official, Cheng Shia, saw the hordes of
refugees who had fled from the north-east and were swarming the
streets of the capital. Knowing that pictures spoke louder than words,
Cheng Shia conceived the idea of making pictures of these poor farmers
"and presenting them to the Emperor. Here was a picture of the
refugees, half clad and starving, travelling on the highway in a blind-
ing storm. There was a picture of half-naked men and women eating
grass roots and tree bark, and others working in chains carrying bricks
and firewood to sell to pay the taxes. Upon seeing the pictures, the
Emperor shed tears. It was this dramatic presentation, which we shall
come to later, coupled with the appearance of a spectacular comet and
a landslide on a sacred mountain, that made the Emperor suspend
many of the "reforms".